Razor's Edge (II 5.6) The Hand, Superstition Mountains, Arizona


A three-pitch treasure near the mysterious Lost Dutchman Mine

Not everything in the Arizona desert bites and stings — the state’s Lost Dutchman Mine, east of Phoenix somewhere in the Superstition Mountains (aka the “Supes”), is said to hold a vast cache of Spanish gold. In fact, more than 50 people have died searching for the sparkly lode. On his deathbed in 1892, the German prospector Jacob Walz placed the trove near what today is Lost Dutchman State Park, where stands the 150-foot Praying Hand (aka the Hand). The Hand offers treasure of a different sort.

A dacite-core formation, the Hand was first climbed by desert and wall master Bill Forrest circa 1965, with Gary Garbert and Ky Punches. The men raced up the tower 45 minutes, using only hexagonal machine nuts for pro, via what’s now known as the Razor’s Edge. Their line ascends the rock’s spine for three pitches, offering nearly 200 feet of climbing, often protected by manky fixed gear (added after the FA) and finishing with a splendid vista of plains some 3,000 feet lower to the south and west.

October through April are the optimal months for the Razor’s Edge. Once at Lost Dutchman State Park, pay a small entrance fee and park near the Cholla Day Use Area, and then hike east on Trail 56 (aka The Treasure Loop Trail) for a mile, to a bench. Just past the seat, a climber’s trail deviates northeast to a saddle right of a dome. From here, contour northeast to the Hand, and then begin via a runout fourth-class gully to the notch below the arête proper.

Pitch two offers slippery climbing past a few vintage bolts and fixed pins — stranding you at the two-bolt belay of Chicken Ledge. A look up at the third (crux) pitch ties your stomach in knots: the arête steepens, and fixed gear becomes less inspiring. You’ll hang onto the airy spine, using slippery volcanic edges, your only consolation the occasional nut or cam. From up top, take in the much-smaller Thumb formation, Tonto National Forest’s wilderness to the north, and the wild and craggy Supes. A double-rope rappel leads to the base, where the hike out lends plenty of opportunity to scan the landscape for Walz’ mystery mine.

Guidebooks:Rock Climbing Arizona, by Stewart M. Green (Falcon, 1999); Superstitions Select, by Greg Opland (Steel Monkey Publishing, 1998)

Guide Services: Arizona Climbing and Adventure School: (480) 363-2390, climbingschool.com; CenterFocus Experiences: (928) 301-3211, thecenterfocus.com

Equipment Shops (Phoenix): Arizona Hiking Shack: 11649 N. Cave Creek Rd., (602) 944-7723; Desert Mountain Sports: 2824 E. Indian School Rd #4, (602) 955-2875; REI: 1405 W. Southern Ave., (602) 967-5494 or 12634 N. Paradise Village Parkway West, (602) 996-5400

Rack: Set of nuts, single set of cams, a dozen runners, two ropes.

Photos by Andrew Burr — www.andrewburr.com


The Tower (5.8 R)Ascending the formation of the same name, The Tower is a spicy two-pitcher with scant protection. The first pitch follows a steep face and a trough to a bolted anchor. The second pitch takes a less-than-solid arête to a gully (or, to an alternative face climb on better rock, to the left), and finally to the exposed pinnacle. Suggested gear: two ropes for the rap and assorted Friends and nuts.

The Prong (5.6)Farther south still, The Prong runs the highest of three spires in the Prong Complex. Some Class 3 and 4 scrambling brings you to a ledge on the north face. A wide crack (the 5.6 part) brings you to another scramble, this time for the summit. Suggested gear: medium to large Friends, and nuts.

The Snake (5.5)On the huge formation known as The Iceberg, The Snake winds its way up the south face via a chimney to a ridgeline belay, where ends P1. From there, Class 4 climbing brings you to the summit. Suggested gear: medium to large friends, and nuts, and two ropes for the rap.

Grandfather Hobgoblin (III 5.9)A proud, four-pitch climb up the side of the Hobgoblin Spires, Grandfather Hobgoblin ascends a 5.6 corner to a crack and ledge system for the first pitch. P2 talks a ramp to a notch, from where P3 begins, following a short crack to the crux 5.9 climbing. Three raps get you down. Suggested gear: a wide range of Friends and nuts, and two ropes for descent.

Spider Walk (III 5.6)Crawling the north face of the North Buttress formation, the four-pitch Spider Walk begins with some Class 4 scrambling to a face climb and a headwall to a trough and the belay station. Pitch 2 follows a runout face to a prow to a ledge by a chimney, where stats pitch 3. Follow the chimney to P4, the “spider walk” pitch, which tackles a chossy traverse to “The Eye,” the final belay station, from where a scramble to the summit is accessible. A 5.7 variation skips the traverse and leads directly to the summit. Suggested gear: Medium to large Friends, nuts, runners, and two 60m (or longer) ropes.

For more on these and other Superstition Mountains routes, check out Rock Climbing Arizona, by Stewart M. Green.